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'What is truth V said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an
Any one of Bacon's acuteness, or of a quarter of it, might easily have perceived, had he at all attended to the context of the narrative, that never was any one less in a jesting mood than Pilate on this occasion. He was anxious to release Jesus; which must have been from a knowledge of the superhuman powers of Him he had to do with. A man so unscrupulous as Pilate is universally admitted to have been, could not have felt any anxiety merely from a dislike of injustice; and therefore his conduct is one confirmation of the reality of the numerous miracles Jesus wrought. They, and they only, must have filled him with dread of the consequences of doing any wrong to such a person, and probably, also, inspired him with a hope of furthering some ambitious views of his own, by taking part with one whom he (in common with so many others) expected to be just about to assume temporal dominion, and to enforce his claim by resistless power. He tries to make Him proclaim Himself a King; and when Jesus does this, but adds that his kingdom is not of this world, still Pilate catches at the word, and says, 'Art thou a king, then?' Jesus then proceeds to designate who should be his subjects: 'Every one that t« of the Truth heareth my words:' as much as to say,'I claim a kingdom, not over the Israelites by race; not over all whom I can subjugate by force, or who will submit to me through fear or interest; but over the votaries of truth,—those who are 'of the truth,''—those who are willing to receive whatever shall be proved true, and to follow wherever that shall lead. And Pilate is at a loss to see what this has to do with his inquiry, 'I am asking you about your claims to empire, and you tell me about truth: what has truth to do with the question?'
Most readers overlook the drift of our Lord's answer, and interpret the words as a mere assertion (which every teacher makes) of the truth of what He taught; as if He had said, 'Every one that heareth my words is of the Truth.'
And commentators usually satisfy themselves with such an interpretation as makes the expression intelligible in itself, without considering how far it is pertinent. A mere assertion of the truth of his teaching would not have been at all relevant to the inquiry made. But what He did say was evidently a description of the persons who were to be the subjects of the kingdom that' is not of this world.'
Much to the same effect is his declaration that those who should be his disciples indeed should 'know the Truth,' and the 'Truth should make them free;' and that 'if any man will do' [is willing to do] 'the will of the Father, he shall know of the doctrine.' Men were not to become his disciples in consequence of their knowing and perceiving the truth of what He taught, but in consequence of their having sufficient candour to receive the evidence which his miracles afforded, and being so thoroughly 'of the Truth,' as to give themselves up to follow wherever that should lead, in opposition to any prejudices or inclinations of their own; and then knowledge of the Truth was to be their reward. There is not necessarily any moral virtue in receiving truth; for it may happen that our interest, or our wishes, are in the same direction; or it may be forced upon us by evidence as irresistible as that of a mathematical demonstration. The virtue consists in being a sincere votary of Truth;—what our Lord calls being 'of the Truth,'—rejecting 'the hidden things of dishonesty,' and carefully guarding against every undue bias. Every one wishes to have Truth on his side; but it is not every one that sincerely wishes to be on the side of Truth.
'The inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or
This love-making or wooing of Truth implies that first step towards attaining the establishment of the habit of a steady thorough-going adherence to it in all philosophic, and especially religious, inquiry—the strong conviction of its value. To this must be united a distrust of ourselves. Men miss truth more often from their indifference about it than from intellectual incapacity. A well-known statesman is reported to have said that 'no gentleman would ever change his religion.' And an author of some note, a professed Protestant Christian, has been heard to declare that he thought very ill of any one who did so; 'unless it were,' he said, 'one man in a million,—some person of surpassing genius.'' And this sentiment (which implies a total indifference to truth and falsehood) has been cited with approbation.
1 Tin- chief part of what follows, T have taken the liberty to extraH from the Essay on Truth (2nd Series). The ditterent senses of the word ' truth ' are treated of in the Elsm^nU of Logic, app. i.
Some men, again, from supposing themselves to have found truth, take for granted that it was for truth they were seeking. But if we either care not to be lovers of Truth, or take for granted that we are such, without taking any pains to acquire the habit, it is not likely that we ever shall acquire it.
Many objections have been urged against the very effort to cultivate such a habit. One is, that we cannot be required to make Truth our main object, but happiness; that our ultimate end is not the mere knowledge of what is true, but the attainment of what is good to ourselves and to others. But this, when urged as an objection to the maxim, that Truth should be sought for its own sake, is evidently founded on a mistake as to its meaning. It is evident, in the first place, that it does not mean the pursuit of all truth on all subjects. It would be ridiculous for a single individual to aim at universal knowledge, or even at the knowledge of all that is within the reach of the human faculties and worthy of human study. The question is respecting the pursuit of truth in each subject on which each person desires to make up his mind and form an opinion. And secondly, the purport of the maxim that in these points truth should be our object, is, that not mere barren knowledge without practice—truth without any ulterior end, should be sought, but that truth should be sought and followed confidently, not in each instance, only so far as we perceive it to be expedient and from motives of policy, but with a full conviction both that it is, in the end, always expedient, with a view to the attainment of ulterior objects (no permament advantage being attainable by departing from it), and also, that, even if some end, otherwise advantageous, could be promoted by such a departure, that alone would constitute it an evil;—that truth, in short, is in itself, independently of its results, preferable to error; that honesty claims a preference to deceit, even without taking into account its being the best policy.
1 It was the same person to whom I have alluded in the ThouijIUt on Oie Sabbath, as declaring that a doctrine which he himself thought utterly groundless, ought, as a matter of expediency, to he sedulously inculcated on the mass of mankind. There is a strange kind of sincerity in this frank avowal of insincerity. I wish I could be sure that all are scrupulous adherents to truth who do not thus plainly proclaim their contempt of it.
Another objection, if it can be so called, is that a perfectly candid and unbiassed state of mind—a habit of judging in each case entirely according to the evidence—is unattainable. But the same may be said of every other virtue: a perfect regulation of any one of the human passions is probably not more attainable than perfect candour; but we are not therefore to give a loose to the passions; we are not to relax our efforts for the attainment of any virtue, on the ground that, after all, we shall fall short of perfection.
Another objection which has been urged is, that it is not even desirable, were it possible, to bring the mind into a state of perfectly unbiassed indifference, so as to weigh the evidence in each case with complete impartiality. This objection arises, I conceive, from an indistinct and confused notion of the sense of the terms employed. A candid and unbiassed state of mind, which is sometimes called indifference, or impartiality,i. e., of the judgment, does not imply an indifference of the will—an absence of all wish on either side, but merely an absence of all influence of the wishes in forming our decision,—all leaning of the judgment on the side of inclination,—all perversion of the evidence in consequence.1 That we should wish to find truth on one side rather than the other, is in many cases not only unavoidable, but commendable; but to think that true which we wish, without impartially weighing the evidence on both sides, is undeniably a folly, though a very common one. If a mode of effectual and speedy cure be proposed to a sick man, he cannot but wish that the result of his inquiries concerning it may be a wellgrounded conviction of the safety and efficacy of the remedy prescribed. It would be no mark of wisdom to be indifferent to the restoration of health; but if his wishes should lead him (as is frequently the case) to put implicit confidence in the remedy without any just grounds for it, he would deservedly be taxed with folly.
In like manner, (to take the instance above alluded to,) a good man will indeed wish to find the evidence of the Christian ought to remember that the disciples were led by the dictates of a sound understanding to say, * No man can do these miracles that thou dost, except God be with him;' and thence to believe and trust, and obey Jesus implicitly; but that Peter was led by his heart (that is, his inclinations and prejudices) to say, 'Be it tar from thee, Lord! there shall no such thing happen unto thee.'
1 This is the meaning in our Prayer-book of truly and 'i;ui/$Vr<»%miuUtering justice:' i.e., impartially.
It is to be remembered also that the intellectual powers are sometimes pressed into the service, as it were, of the feelings, and that a man may be thus misled, in a great measure, through his own ingenuity. 'Depend on it,' said a shrewd observer, when inquired of, what was to be expected from a certain man who had been appointed to some high office, and of whose intelligence he thought more favourably than of his uprightness,— 'depend on it, he will never take any step that is bad, without having a very good reason to give for it.' Now it is common to warn men—and they are generally ready enough to take the warning—against being thus misled by the ingenuity of another; but a person of more than ordinary learning and ability needs to be carefully on his guard against being misled by his own. Though conscious, perhaps, of his own power to dress up speciously a bad cause, or an extravagant and fanciful theory, he is conscious also of a corresponding power to distinguish sound reasoning from sophistry. But this will not avail to protect him from convincing himself by ingenious sophistry of his own, if he has allowed himself to adopt some conclusion which pleases his imagination, or favours some passion or self-interest. His own superior intelligence will then be, as I have said, pressed into the service of his inclinations. It is, indeed, no feeble blow that will suffice to destroy a giant; but if a giant resolves to commit suicide, it is a giant that deals the blow.
When, however, we have made up our minds as to the importance of seeking in every case for truth with an unprejudiced mind, the greatest difficulty still remains; which arises from the confidence we are apt to feel that we have already done this, and have sought for truth with success. For every one must of course be convinced of the truth of his own opinion, if it be properly called his opinion; and yet the variety of men's opinions furnishes a proof how many must be mistaken. If any one, then, would guard against mistake, as far as his intellectual faculties will allow, he must make it the first question in